I’ve always had a great relationship with my son, who is now 14, but I’m finding his teenage self very hard to deal with. It’s not that he’s a bad kid, he’s just much less pleasant to be around and is increasingly withdrawn. I’m having trouble connecting with him. There are still moments where we enjoy each other’s company, but more and more often, our interactions are tense, cut short, or full of conflict. I need some advice on how to keep our relationship strong.
Signed, Teen Troubles
Dear Father of a Teenager,
What you and your son are experiencing is quite common. Fourteen-year-old boys are going through many changes in their bodies, their hormones, and their emotions that are often difficult for them to assimilate. The usual response for them is to withdraw, usually to the quiet of their rooms, accompanied frequently by depression and aggression.
There are several things you can do to make sure your son makes the most of these formative years:
1. Keep the lines of communication open – even though it is not always easy to get his attention, be sure to let him know how much you love him. That includes with words, hugs, back rubs, and high fives. Dinner table talks are usually not the best time to connect. Try private times such as during carpools (when he is the only one in the car with you), late nights alone, or walks to the shul are best.
2. Make sure he gets plenty of exercise – that includes sports, helping clean the house, and walking to school and shul. This helps his body work through its new overload of hormones.
3. Encourage, don’t discourage – his moodiness might prompt you to yell or criticize. Understand that he is not totally in control of his emotions, and likely won’t be for a while.
4. Set an example – your young man just went through his bar mitzvah and is on his way to becoming a man. Who better than his father, and his mother, to be his role model of what to aspire to. Show patience, don’t nag, offer solutions, and maximize fun in the good times.
We’ve all been through the exercise. With the proper attitude and actions on your part, your son will continue to be a source of pride for you and the entire family.